Michael Bay at War

13 Hours avoids the public, political quagmire that followed the events of Benghazi. With a few lines, whiffs of greater conspiracy find their way into the script (one can imagine Oliver Stone’s take). It’s minor though. When one character draws comparison to Black Hawk Down, that’s not accidental; 13 Hours is Michael Bay’s version of Ridley Scott’s wartime disaster film more than conspiratorial drama.

The difference between the pair is nuance. Black Hawk Down had some. Bay turns this intelligence fiasco into something akin to a Transformers spectacle. Roving cameras pan down streets, capturing bullet impacts and sparking fireballs. It’s utterly theatrical, treating each round with explicit focus. The same goes for jingoistic themes.

In the first act, 13 Hours tries, mostly with text, to reconcile the lead-up to a night of exchanged fire between American contractors and Libyan rebels. That passes in seconds There’s no measured attempt to understand the who – Libyan militants fire at an American flag in slow motion during an action scene, made out in-camera to be a greater insult than shooting people. With the final shot, a flag soaks up water in a swimming pool, knocked over in the fighting.

Bay’s affection for fast cutting and overly bouncy camera benefits 13 Hours

It’s not so much 13 Hours depicts the mutilation of United States symbolism. Rather, in how that ties into the greater arc. High-ranking CIA officials panic, depicted as cowards for the contractors to put down and berate. Processes ruin everything; time costs lives, and keeps men away from the action. The script casts intelligence employees as feeble lessers, even smug until rebels advance.

Heroes, the lot of them. From those who battle thirst, fire, and opposing rifles on rooftops to those attempting to gather information the ground. 13 Hours respects but one though, even as it asks for sympathy during the pre-credit roll. John Krasinski stars, connected by way of idealist home life. Two kids, white picket fence, sunny days flashbacks deserve ire for their forcefulness, particularly in how crass they seem when in contrast to Libyan children sitting roadside in total poverty. The lack of empathy for anything less than a small band of American heroes is unsettling.

For what the intent is, action moves fluidly and panic happens amid total disorientation. A simple instruction to turn left becomes a nightmare, while knowing enemy from ally becomes guesswork. Bay’s affection for fast cutting and overly bouncy camera benefits 13 Hours, more so than his previous works. Short of some misguided levity in spots, 13 Hours avoids being fun. ‘Entertaining’ doesn’t fit as a descriptor; harrowing does.

Video

A digital effort, 13 Hours is finished at 2K. That barely matters given Bay’s command. Cinematographer Dion Beebe shots close, shoots sharp, and shoots clear. Take an already impressive Blu-ray and add resolution. This is where things end up, and it’s gorgeous.

Medium shots can match a close-up. That’s rare. Long shots of the Malta locations excel in detail. In close, the texture strikes with brilliant intensity. It’s masterful, high-budget stuff (or mid-budget by Bay’s standards) making 13 Hours dazzling.

Like Transformers, the 4K UHD jump is sold by way of Dolby Vision. Contrast blooms with a bevy of highlights. Sparks and explosions can blind with their power. When a building is lit aflame in the first act, it’s all power and against a backdrop of pure black nighttime scenery.

Deep color enhances a typical warm/cool palette, but again, like the Bay norm, these stretch to extremes. Those warm tones during the day boost the sense of heat and discomfort. At night, the blues no longer look or feel digitally graded, but organic.

Audio

A powerhouse audio mix continues to bring strength until the finish. Plentiful LFE support creates an enormous showcase. Late, one of the soldiers stuffs cotton in his ears to blot out machine gun fire. He’s not wrong – what’s coming is a hail of bullets scattered around the Atmos/TruehD 7.1 soundstage (the same mix is on the 4K and Blu-ray releases). Each round hammers the low-end with force.

Intense directionality spreads returning fire, the mix acutely aware of where return fire is coming from. The added rear channels are spoiled by the level of activity asked of them. Near the close as mortars begin raining in, explosions take on additional weight, dropping to vicious levels and accentuating the closeness of each blast.

While much can made of the action, 13 Hours fills the soundstage with activity from Libyan marketplaces and inside CIA safe houses. A key scene early on takes place inside the burning facility, characters calling to one another through the smoke. Their voices pan, creating a narrative-accentuating moment.

Extras

Given a full disc to work with, extras take up 84 minutes of time, the same as the previous Blu-ray release. For the Record comes first, interviewing author/journalist Mitchell Zuckoff, actors, and the soldiers who were there. Conspiracy dissenters won’t buy any of it, but the insight is appreciated. Uncovering Benghazi’s Secret Soldiers spends nearly a half hour on the same topic, detailing the roles of those involved who survived.

Those who are looking for movie-centric material can view Preparing for Battle, a typical behind-the-scenes feature made special by involvement from the soldiers themselves. A look into the lavish premiere inside At&T Stadium and touching tribute to those who died remain.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

13 Hours
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Michael Bay avoids much of the real world controversy around the events of 13 Hours, leaving things flat and direct if flashy.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our Patreon-exclusive set of 32 full 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: